Even if you’re not a particular fan of the bureaucracy that is the Federal Aviation Administration, you have to feel for Randy Babbitt. Since taking over as FAA Administrator a little over two years ago, bringing with him fresh ideas about ways for improving aviation’s safety record and transitioning to the satellite-based NextGen operating environment, he has been repeatedly pulled off track by one circus sideshow after another.
First there was the LightSquared GPS interference issue, then air traffic controllers falling asleep on the job, then lawsuits in California over leaded avgas use, and now, of course, Congress’s failure to pass another short-term funding measure, leading to a partial FAA shutdown and the furlough of 4,000 agency employees.
And yet through this latest turmoil – and with no clear end in sight after 20 temporary extensions of the FAA’s operating authority – Babbitt kept his commitment to travel to EAA AirVenture to personally speak to aviation enthusiasts and provide updates on pressing aviation issues, such as renewed talk of user fees (he doesn’t support them), the LightSquared mess (he says he won’t let GPS interference occur), the controversial shutdown of the BARR program (he supports pilot privacy), and several other issues.
Nobody who knows him doubts for a moment that the current FAA Administrator is a fierce and loyal advocate for aviation. After all, he spent 25 years flying for Eastern Airlines and served as president of the Air Line Pilots Association for eight years in the 1990s.
But even with his pedigree as a pilot and industry leader, he must be feeling tremendous heat from the current funding debacle.
“There were several things they didn’t tell me that could possibly happen as I became FAA Administrator, and I’m now living through one – the idea that Congress wouldn’t reauthorize us,” Babbitt said during his informal “Meet the Administrator” session at AirVenture on Thursday. “But it’s an absolute pleasure to be with you here at Oshkosh. This is one of the world’s great aviation celebrations. I used to come here before I was the FAA Administrator, I’m going to come here as the FAA Administrator, and I’ll be back after I’m the FAA Administrator.”
I, for one, am hoping, somehow, that the remainder of Babbitt’s time at the FAA passes with far less melodrama than he’s experience so far. Being a realist, and given the current state of Washington politics, I know that’s probably not possible.
At any rate, I think I speak for a lot of folks at AirVenture when I offer him a warm thank you for being there.